Review: Doctor Who – The Gathering

The GatheringIf you’re a fan of the fifth Doctor Who and, in particular, of Tegan, you’ll want to listen to The Gathering, since it’s likely to be Janet Fielding’s only return to the role. Set in present-day Brisbane, it catches up with the Doctor’s only Australian companion and discovers what she’s been up to in the last 20 years.

There’s a problem though. There was another Big Finish release in September: The Reaping, also by Joseph Lidster. It turns out that The Gathering is a sequel to The Reaping. But because we’re dealing with time travel, The Reaping is also a sequel to The Gathering.

Curses.

The good news, though, is that it’s perfectly possible to listen to The Reaping without then listening to The Gathering. If anything, you’re better off not listening to The Gathering since it only muddies the waters. The other way round? Not so easy…

The plot (a lovely fashioned reproduction of the plot available from the Big Finish web site)

On the morning of 22 September 2006, Tegan woke up. She was expecting to spend the day relaxing at home and, that evening, tolerate a party thrown to celebrate her 46th birthday.

But things don’t always go as expected it’s been over twenty years since she chose to leave the Doctor. She’s got a job, mates… a life.

Meanwhile her friend, Katherine Chambers, makes a decision that could change all their lives, and Tegan discovers that you can never really escape the past.

Is it any good?

Not so much. The first CD involves the slow and steady build up of the chance meeting of the Doctor and Tegan. The Doctor, after dropping off Peri and Erimem for their adventures with a Veiled Leopard (a story that was only available with Doctor Who Magazine), takes a trip to the centre of the moon. There he meets a fan of his, Alan, who has been following his travels throughout Earth’s history (he goes on to appear later/earlier in The Gathering in a different form).

Since this is a Big Finish play, Alan has many continuity questions for the Doctor:

“Were you there at the discovery of fire?” “Yes.” An Unearthly Child.

“Were you responsible for the Marie Celeste?” “Kind of.” The Chase

“Were you with UNIT?” “Yes, but don’t ask me when.” Was it the 70s or the 80s? On your marks, get set, flame war!

All amusing to fans in their way, but in combination with The Kingmaker, it does seem like Davison’s Doctor is purely there for moralising and broad fan comedy in these Big Finish productions. But he seems to enjoy it, so let’s not begrudge him a little fun.

Alan handily points the Doctor in the direction of some bizarre energy readings in 1984 Baltimore, but he discovers he’s already there so opts for choice two, modern-day Brisbane, where after chasing after the source of the energy, he finds Tegan in a bar, celebrating her birthday.

The second CD devolves into standard Big Finish sci-fi experiments and secret organisations (cf Project Twillight and Project Lazarus). Indeed, I suspect this two-parter is really a prequel in itself to those two stories because of certain hints made by one particular character; if not, there’s a sequel coming your way soon, you can be sure.

It turns out Tegan’s presence isn’t as much of a coincidence as suspected, and while the eventual plot explanation makes sense, it all seems rushed and confused. And for that true touch of fifth Doctor authenticity, it also involves him and his companion being kept prisoners for much of the time.

If you haven’t listened to The Gathering, I suspect you will be a little confused, despite the best efforts of Joseph Lidster to fill in the back story. Certainly, much of the emotional resonance will be missing, as will the parallels between the two. But strangely, all the set-up for The Reaping is largely ignored in that story, making the elaborate work of the Doctor seem completely pointless.

Fielding turns out to be okay as an audio actress and she still seems to have a rapport with Davison. Quite why she chose to come back for this particular story is unclear, since although it revolves around Tegan, it’s not like Tegan saves the day or has much to do except be overtly Australian.

Davison does his best to cope with his somewhat bland fifth Doctor persona, but only gets the chance towards the end in some choice moments with Tegan. The rest of the cast seemed a bit rubbish to me, but others may differ.

If you’re not lured by the prospect of Fielding as Tegan, I really wouldn’t bother with this one. Stick to The Reaping instead.

Listen to the trailer.

Cast

The Doctor (Peter Davison)

Tegan (Janet Fielding)

Katherine Chambers (Jane Perry)

James Clarke (Richard Grieve)

Michael Tanaka (Dait Abuchi)

Eve Morris (Janie Booth)

Jodi Boyd (Zehra Naqvi)

Waiter (Jef Higgins)

Alan Fitzgerald (Nicholas Briggs)

Rosemary Stark (Belinda Hoare)

Writer: Joseph Lidster

Director: Gary Russell

Release Date: September 2006

RRP: £14.99 (international £15.50)